Weather forecasters in Alaska are working without pay, some local offices of federal agencies are closed, and others are continuing with “business as usual.”
That’s some of what’s happening here as the partial shutdown of the federal government heads into its third week, the result of an ongoing stalemate in Washington, D.C., between Congress and President Donald Trump.
Compared to other states, Alaska has one of the highest percentages of federal employees making up its workforce. There were about 15,100 jobs in federal government here in 2017, according to the latest annual average from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. That doesn’t include uniformed military members and private contractors.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service are continuing to work but not getting paid, said David Levin, a National Weather Service Employees Organization union steward for the forecast office in Juneau. There’s still work to do, putting out watches, warnings and advisories.
“Is just a matter of, we’re not going to be paid at this time for it. We will later,” Levin said. “It’s a little bit of added stress and uncertainty.”
For the most part, he said, forecasters are keeping a “pretty good attitude” about the situation.
“There’s not much we can really do. I think if you spoke to most people that work for the Weather Service, we all really enjoy our jobs, putting out watches and warnings and the impact that has on public safety,” he said. “Try to focus on the task, focus on the job best we can, keep our chins up.”
At some offices, it’s difficult to get a clear understanding of the impacts of the shutdown. At the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, spokeswoman Shirley Young said in an email that it was “somewhat challenging” to get answers to a reporter’s questions about the effect on ANTHC because “those who are most closely involved are on furlough currently.”
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration also wasn’t available to answer questions. His automated email response said, “Due to the lapse in government funding, I am off work." His email referred questions to another FAA employee, who did not respond to emailed questions Monday.
At the FAA’s Flight Standards District Office in Midtown Anchorage, a sign on the door Monday read: “This office is closed due to the government shutdown,” offered people a phone number to call and ended with, “Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Among federal workers, there’s a sense of fear, said Dave Owens, a representative in Alaska for the American Federation of Government Employees union.
“People have bills, people have mortgage payments, people seem very much afraid,” he said. “It’s a political game, and federal workers are being a pawn.”
At the National Weather Service in Juneau, Levin said there are varying levels of comfort with missing a paycheck.
“Some people can afford to miss several in a row and it’s gonna be tight but it’s OK,” he said. “Some people don’t really have enough savings to do more than a couple paychecks.”
Transportation Safety Administration officials last week said there was a rise in “sick outs” from employees at airports around the country.
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The shutdown has had “no impact in operations” at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Fairbanks International Airport, said Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokeswoman Meadow Bailey.
“Not seeing delays due to staffing shortages, nothing like that,” she said Monday.
At the heart of the shutdown clash is Trump’s insistence on getting funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Rep. Don Young supports the ongoing negotiations between House and Senate leadership and the White House and believes that it will result in legislation that ends the shutdown, Young’s chief of staff Pamela Day said in an email.
Young “understands President Trump’s focus on securing our nation’s borders, but in the long-run holding up the appropriations process does more harm than good,” she wrote. “He has experienced more than a dozen shutdowns and quite frankly, they aren’t the answer. It’s Congress’ Constitutional responsibility to fund the government and the House did its job by passing a bill in December that would have prevented this partial shutdown.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan “is hopeful that negotiations currently ongoing between Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader Schumer and the Trump administration come to an agreement in short order, and allow this partial shutdown to end,” spokesman Mike Anderson said in an email.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski did not respond with answers to questions by early Monday evening.
For some agencies, there hasn’t been much disruption. Federal courts in Alaska will continue to conduct business as usual, even if no new funding appropriation is made by the deadline of Jan. 18.
“It won’t change what we’re doing on a daily basis here,” said Stephanie Lawley, chief deputy clerk for the U.S. District Court of Alaska.
Civil matters in which a person or group is suing a federal government agency that’s part of the shutdown may be “held in abeyance,” according to an order released by the court on Dec. 28.
The Indian Health Service said 13 employees are furloughed in its Alaska office.
“Fifty-four IHS employees and a little over 250 U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers are detailed to tribally-operated sites throughout the Alaska area,” the IHS said in a statement. “None of the employees or Commissioned Corps officers detailed to these sites are furloughed.”
Some furloughed federal workers in Alaska have started to apply for unemployment insurance, said Neal Fried, an economist with the state labor department. It’s “just too early” to measure what the broader economic impacts of the shutdown might be, he said.
While difficult to measure, other impacts of the partial shutdown include closed offices that serve customers.
The Campbell Creek Science Center is closed in Anchorage, as is the Bureau of Land Management administrative office where people can do business related to mining claims. One veterinarian said he’d been accredited through a federal program but was waiting on an official approval needed before he could legally sign health certificates for animals to travel.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Anchorage quarantine station -- one of 20 in the country -- is operating normally during the shutdown. It is not clear whether some employees at the CDC’s Arctic Investigations Program, headquartered on the Alaska Native Health campus, are also furloughed.
The CDC said it would be “open for business as usual” as of Jan. 23.
Most immigration courts are closed. In Anchorage, people facing deportation appear by video link before immigration judges in Portland, Oregon, at hearings every few months. Any hearings scheduled during the shutdown would be rescheduled.